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The “dent” in J. I. Packer’s head is the result of a childhood accident.

In September of 1933, at the age of seven, he had “a violent collision with a truck, a bread van.” The result—damage to the frontal lobe of his brain with a chunk of his skull missing—was a three-week stay in the hospital, followed by six months of recuperation away from school. From that time until he went off to Oxford, he had to wear a protective aluminum plate over his injury and to abstain from all sports. Already a loner, Packer withdrew into solitary activities like reading and writing.

Alister McGrath picks up the story:

Every schoolboy of the period longer for the day when he would own a bicycle of his own. Usually around the age of eleven, at the point when a schoolboy would enter senior school, parents would mark their son’s ‘coming of age’ by giving him a bicycle as a birthday present.

Packer dropped heavy hints that he expected to receive a cycle, like all his friends.

However, his parents knew that they could not yet allow their son to have a bicycle. If he were to have any kind of accident, the earlier injury could lead to something much more serious, and potentially fatal. But what could they give their son instead?

On the morning of his eleventh birthday, in 1937, Packer wandered down from his bedroom to see what present awaited him. The family had a tradition of placing birthday presents in dining room of the house. He expected to find a bicycle. Instead, he found an old Oliver typewriter, which seemed to him to weigh half a ton. Although it was old, in was nevertheless in excellent condition.

It was not what Packer had asked for; nevertheless, it proved to be what he needed.

Surprise gave way to delight, as he realized what he could do with this unexpected gift. It was not more than a minute before he had put paper into the machine and started to type. It proved to be his best present and the most treasured possession of his boyhood.

—Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer: A Biography (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), p. 6, my emphasis.

To this day, Packer continues to type all of his manuscripts and correspondence on an old-fashioned typewriter. He has never used a computer.

I’m thankful for a God who does not always give us what we want, but always provides what we ultimately need.


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3 thoughts on “J.I. Packer’s 11th Birthday Present: The Tale of the Bicycle and the Typewriter”

  1. John Botkin says:

    Great story! Thanks for sharing it, brother.

  2. Richard Agnew says:

    And I believe he drives John Stackhouse in the next office at Regent College nuts with the constant klack-klack-klacking! :o)

  3. Danny says:

    With all the Christian “hollywood” going on I’m starting to forget who Jesus is.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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